Cardinal President Kate Carr prepares to hand over reins

Never one to be bound by gender bias, Kathleen Walsh Carr, the Washington president of McLean-based Cardinal Bank, saw few limitations as she advanced in her 39-year career.

That's not to say none existed.

Carr, 64, recalls when she started out there were no women working in commercial lending, many were pigeonholed as tellers and very few occupied chairs in the C-suite. She was determined, however, to blaze her own path. And she did, rising through the ranks as an executive at the National Bank of Washington and later the District's Abigail Adams National Bank, where she was chief executive for eight years.

Now as the prominent banker prepares to hand the reins over to Cardinal market executive Jeffrey DiMeglio, she is proud to know there will be no dearth of powerful female bankers in the Washington area.

“When I look around, I see women in influential positions throughout our industry,” said Carr, who is not immediately retiring but is grooming DiMeglio to take over her day-to-day duties at the bank over the next couple of years. “Women have worked up to being in senior positions. Still, we're not at parity yet or even close to it.”

Observers say the list of women holding senior level positions at community, regional and national banks serving the Washington area has grown significantly longer over the past few decades.

“The opportunities are great at this juncture,” said Kathleen Murphy, president and chief executive of the Maryland Bankers Association. “There are a significant number of women serving in key officer positions.”

A review of the management teams of nearly 100 local institutions turned up more than 60 female bankers in roles ranging from senior underwriter to chief executive. Ten community banks in metropolitan Washington have at least one woman in a C-level hob, including Susan G. Riel, chief operating officer of EagleBank in Bethesda; Patricia Ferrick, chief financial officer of First Virginia Community Bank in Fairfax; and Dorothy J. Bridges, chief executive of City First Bank of D.C.

Local women also hold key positions at some of the nation's largest institutions, with Lynn Carter holding sway as president of McLean-based Capital One Bank and Aimee Daniels as HSBC's mid-Atlantic regional president.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63.8 percent of the banking workforce is female. Recent studies show women hold less than one-fourth of executive positions, and fewer serve on boards or head institutions.

Women may have to work a bit harder to prove their worth, but the odds are not insurmountable, said Shaza Andersen, founder and chief executive of WashingtonFirst Bank. She encourages young female bankers to set goals and map out a plan to achieve them, as she did while working her way up to chief operating officer of Century National Bank.

After Century sold to United Bank in 2001, Andersen toyed with the idea of starting her own institution. Her former boss at Century, Joseph S. Bracewell (who now serves as chairman of WashingtonFirst), supported the idea and became her sounding board through the process.

“The biggest reason for my success is that I had a mentor,” she said. “When you're young and growing, you're not going to know everything. It helped making certain decisions based on experience.”

Mentors can be quite useful in helping women advance, as can leadership groups. There are, however, no dedicated organizations for female bankers, though some larger financial associations do support that community, according to the American Bankers Association.

Maryland Bankers does not have a leadership programs for women, but the association's chairman-elect, Mary Ann Scully, the first woman to hold the position, said she and Murphy may consider one in the future.

“Do I wish that those things were necessary? No. Do I think that they still are and therefore should be provided? Yes,” said Scully, who is also chief executive of Howard Bank in Ellicott City. “It's still unfortunate, and perhaps reflective of our society, that women feel the need for that support.”

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